Collateral crime evidence violates a defendant's right to due process if it is so prejudicial that it denies the defendant a fair trial. Such evidence is inherently prejudicial because it creates the risk that a conviction will be based on the defendant's bad character or propensity to commit crimes, rather than on proof that he committed the charged offense.
In the sole count of the information, the State alleged that between August 20, 2013, and November 6, 2013, defendant unlawfully and intentionally touched T.F., a person less than 12 years of age, in a lewd and lascivious manner, on the ***, genitals, genital area, or buttocks, or the clothing covering them, contrary to section 800.04(5)(a)-(b), Florida Statutes. At the time, defendant was T.F.'s stepfather. T.F. would later testify at trial that when she was approximately 10 or 11 years old, Taylor came into the bedroom that T.F. shared with a different sister, J.F., and that while T.F. was lying in her bed, Taylor touched her *** for a couple of seconds over the t-shirt that she was wearing. When T.F. began to move, defendant abruptly left the room.
During the pendency of the case, the State filed what is commonly referred to as a "Williams Rule"1 notice under section 90.404(2)(a), Florida Statutes (2017), of its intent to use similar fact evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts at trial for various reasons. Because defendant was charged with a crime involving child molestation, the State argued that evidence of his commission of other crimes, wrongs, or acts of child molestation was admissible and could be considered for its bearing on any matter to which it was relevant. The State listed five witnesses in its notice, including the victim, that it intended to call at trial to testify as to prior acts of child molestation committed upon them by Taylor.
Following a pretrial evidentiary hearing, the trial court entered an order permitting T.F. to testify about an earlier, uncharged act of sexual misconduct committed upon her by defendant The court also allowed T.F.'s sister, J.F., to testify about similar acts of molestation committed upon her by defendant when he would come into J.F.'s bedroom and touch her while she appeared to be sleeping in her bed. Defendant did not challenged these rulings on appeal, but rather whether the trial court erred in admitting the testimony of L.G., T.F.'s other sister.
In its notice, the State asserted that when L.G. was approximately 12 years old and living with her mother, Taylor, and her two sisters, defendant "forced [L.G.] on the bed, took her clothes off, and forcefully inserted his penis in her vagina." At the pretrial hearing, L.G. provided further context to this act, testifying that she had just finished taking a shower and was putting her dirty clothes in a clothes bin located in the bedroom that Taylor shared with L.G.'s mother. At that point, Taylor "pinned" L.G. onto his bed so that she could not get up and "stuck his penis in [her]" for what seemed like a "long time." L.G. also testified at the pretrial Williams Rule hearing to some unspecified but inferentially improper "touching" by Taylor immediately prior to the sexual battery.
Did the trial court abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of the sexual battery committed upon L.G.?
Collateral crime evidence violates a defendant's right to due process if it is so prejudicial that it denies the defendant a fair trial. Such evidence "is inherently prejudicial because it creates the risk that a conviction will be based on the defendant's bad character or propensity to commit crimes, rather than on proof that he committed the charged offense. Given the significant dissimilarities between the charged crime and the collateral crime of the prior sexual battery committed by Tdefendant upon L.G., combined with the admittedly highly prejudicial nature of this evidence, and in light of the other similar fact evidence properly admitted, the appellate court concluded that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of the sexual battery committed upon L.G.
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